DNA and Carbon in Asteroids (oh my), bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

DNA and Carbon, in Asteroids (oh my)

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series
3/13/13

You know, us Carbon-based life forms
always wonder where we came from,
how we got here.

And with science on our side,
we’ve looked beyond
guessing and story telling
to find proof in our answers.

And still, we look beyond
what we know around us
to find out how we were formed
here on earth.

#

A couple of asteroids
just flew
perilously close to the earth.
Asteroid 2012 DA 14 intersected the iridium constellation,
flew through all of our global communication satellites.
An asteroid turned meteor blew up in the atmosphere
above the Ural mountains;
every Russian on the road
filmed the sky explosion
with their dashboard cameras,
before the sonic boom shattered windows everywhere
and injured over a thousand people.

And over two thirds of our planet
is covered in water,
just think of all of the impacts
we’re missing out on;
I mean, our news feeds
don’t come from the middle of the ocean…

So we seem to think that these stellar explosions
are becoming more and more rare,
because our planet is pocked with massive impacts
from the earth’s early history.
But now that these scientists
have been scanning the skies
and studying the meteors buried in Antarctica,
they’ve learned that many asteroids and meteors
colliding with our planet’s crust
actually carry atanine and guanine.

Asteroids carry major structures that form DNA.

It’s very possible
that throughout the early history of earth,
asteroids collided with this planet,
leaving their Carbon-rich DNA structures behind
to help start life, and populate the earth.

I mean, Scientists have always wondered
how the elemental sextet of life:
Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium,
how did these elements got together
in just the right way
to eventually create earth’s Carbon-based life forms.

I guess it would help that primordial soup
if some asteroids brought along
a little bit of DNA,
so some of our building blocks
came ready-made.

Astronomers say that we’re all made out of stardust,
because all of our atoms
originate from the explosion of stars,
but for this Carbon-based life form,
it’s cool that some of these asteroids and meteors
carried our Carbon —
and some of our DNA —
here to planet earth,
to jump-start our creation
and get our genetic gears going.

Iodine, Periodic Table poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Iodine

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#053, I)

I saw a science fantasy show once
where a man made entirely out of tumors
could only regenerate himself to survive
by submerging in a bathtub of Iodine.

Now I’m not a tumor, I’m only human,
but I have to remember that you’re good for me,
you and you violet vapors,
we’ve just got to find out ways
to keep you with us as long as we can…

you’re rare throughout this Universe,
but lucky us, here on planet earth,
we’re the one with the water,
and you seem to be all over our oceans.

Lucky us, we need your nutrition,
and we need you to help us heal…

But as I said, you’re rare in the Universe,
which means you’re rare on this land.
And if we can’t get enough of you,
it might be an intellectual disability.

But you help me see right down to my bones,
and I don’t want to lose my faculties —
or what makes me me —
if I don’t have you.

You’ve disinfected my cuts and sores,
we’ve used you in medicines,
and… I’m sorry.
You may be rare in this Universe,
but I know how good you are to me,
and I don’t want to let you go.

 

Argon poem by Janet Kuypers

Argon

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Argonne National Laboratory (the first U.S. science
and engineering research national laboratory).
was started because Enrico Fermi’s Manhattan Project
was to create the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction.
They constructed “Chicago Pile-1“, which achieved criticality
(a sustained nuclear fission reaction) December second
nineteen forty two, under the University of Chicago’s
Stagg football field stands. But since this experiment
was too dangerous to conduct in a major city,
it was moved to a spot nearby in Palos Hills,
and named “Argonne“ after the surrounding forest.

You know, when I was trying to learn
about the element Argon,
I was really hoping that Argonne Lab,
so close to where I grew up,
would have something to do with Argon
(and not a nearby forest preserve)…

Now, the element Argon got its name
from the Greek word meaning “lazy“,
but that’s because Argon atomically is stable
and resistant to bonding with other elements.
And because Argon has about the same solubility
in water as oxygen, Argon often displaces oxygen
and moisture-containing air in packaging materials,
to extend the shelf-lives of the contents.
You know, other noble gas elements
would probably work as well as Argon for this,
but Argon is the cheapest
(so I guess the cheap one wins).

Since Argon is colorless, odorless, and —
this is the important one —
does not satisfy the body’s need for oxygen,
Argon is therefore an asphyxiant.
And since it’s hard to detect,
it’s highly dangerous in closed areas.

But on the plus side,
liquefied Argon is used in cryoablation
to actually destroy cancer cells
with Argon plasma beam electrosurgery.

And the thing is, Argon can also be used
to create incandescent lights
looking like blue neon
(and you can just add a little mercury
to make the light more electric blue).

I wonder if that blue light Argon can emit
looks anything like what we see in the night sky,
because the one tidbit about Argon that really got to me
was that Argon is used (primarily in liquid form)
as the target for direct Dark Matter searches.
The interaction of a hypothetical WIMP
(a “weakly interacting massive particle“)
with the Argon nucleus produces scintillation light,
and Argon gas can detect the ionized electrons
made during the WIMP-nucleus scattering.

#

Okay, okay, when I was playing cards once,
we decided to place bets
on what the winner of each hand would get.
Since we didn’t have any money
and we on an astronomy kick,
the first winning hand won the Moon,
then the Earth, then more of the planets,
then the Asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt,
the Ort Cloud, the Solar System,
then the Milky Way Galaxy.
We may have even bet on the Andromeda Galaxy,
or constellations like Orion
(even though the stars and the nebula
in the constellation are nowhere
near each other in the Universe)…
Then my opponent suggested
the winner of the next hand
would have dominion over Dark Matter.
Alright, they won that hand, but the winner
of the next and final hand won the Universe,
and since I won that hand, I wanted to say
that I therefore ruled over the Dark Matter as well…

Now, you can’t see Dark Matter directly;
scientists believe that this hypothetical Dark Matter,
which neither emits nor absorbs light or radiation,
can take up to eighty-four percent
of all of the matter in the Universe.
Since Dark Matter can’t be seen,
scientists can only infer the existence
of Dark Matter by its gravitational effects
on other matter in the Universe.

And they assume the corresponding particle
in Cold Dark Matter
is a weakly interacting massive particle.
A WIMP.

Now, this is all hypothetical,
But think about it:
if the Dark Matter within our galaxy
is made of WIMPs, then thousands of WIMPs
pass through every square centimeter
of the Earth
each second.

Kind of cool.

And if Argon is used to help detect
these hypothetical WIMPs,
that’s kind of cool too…
Because this stable noble gas
might be difficult for people
trying to breathe in confined spaces
when Argon can easily displace oxygen,
but Argon can help remove cancer
from our bodies,
can light the way,
and may even help us learn more
about some of those undiscovered details
in the Universe too.